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Six Potential 401(k) Rollover Pitfalls

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You’re about to receive a distribution from your 401(k) plan, and you’re considering a rollover to a traditional IRA. While these transactions are normally straightforward and trouble free, there are some pitfalls you’ll want to avoid.

1. Consider the pros and cons of a rollover. The first mistake some people make is failing to consider the pros and cons of a rollover to an IRA in the first place. You can leave your money in the 401(k) plan if your balance is over $5,000. And if you’re changing jobs, you may also be able to roll your distribution over to your new employer’s 401(k) plan.

  • Though IRAs typically offer significantly more investment opportunities and withdrawal flexibility, your 401(k) plan may offer investments that can’t be replicated in an IRA (or can’t be replicated at an equivalent cost).
  • 401(k) plans offer virtually unlimited protection from your creditors under federal law (assuming the plan is covered by ERISA; solo 401(k)s are not), whereas federal law protects your IRAs from creditors only if you declare bankruptcy. Any IRA creditor protection outside of bankruptcy depends on your particular state’s law.
  • 401(k) plans may allow employee loans.
  • And most 401(k) plans don’t provide an annuity payout option, while some IRAs do.

2. Not every distribution can be rolled over to an IRA. For example, required minimum distributions can’t be rolled over. Neither can hardship withdrawals or certain periodic payments. Do so and you may have an excess contribution to deal with.

3. Use direct rollovers and avoid 60-day rollovers. While it may be tempting to give yourself a free 60-day loan, it’s generally a mistake to use 60-day rollovers rather than direct (trustee to trustee) rollovers. If the plan sends the money to you, it’s required to withhold 20% of the taxable amount. If you later want to roll the entire amount of the original distribution over to an IRA, you’ll need to use other sources to make up the 20% the plan withheld. In addition, there’s no need to taunt the rollover gods by risking inadvertent violation of the 60-day limit.

4. Remember the 10% penalty tax. Taxable distributions you receive from a 401(k) plan before age 59½ are normally subject to a 10% early distribution penalty, but a special rule lets you avoid the tax if you receive your distribution as a result of leaving your job during or after the year you turn age 55 (age 50 for qualified public safety employees). But this special rule doesn’t carry over to IRAs. If you roll your distribution over to an IRA, you’ll need to wait until age 59½ before you can withdraw those dollars from the IRA without the 10% penalty (unless another exception applies). So if you think you may need to use the funds before age 59½, a rollover to an IRA could be a costly mistake.

5. Learn about net unrealized appreciation (NUA). If your 401(k) plan distribution includes employer stock that’s appreciated over the years, rolling that stock over into an IRA could be a serious mistake. Normally, distributions from 401(k) plans are subject to ordinary income taxes. But a special rule applies when you receive a distribution of employer stock from your plan: You pay ordinary income tax only on the cost of the stock at the time it was purchased for you by the plan. Any appreciation in the stock generally receives more favorable long-term capital gains treatment, regardless of how long you’ve owned the stock. (Any additional appreciation after the stock is distributed to you is either long-term or short-term capital gains, depending on your holding period.) These special NUA rules don’t apply if you roll the stock over to an IRA.

6. And if you’re rolling over Roth 401(k) dollars to a Roth IRA… If your Roth 401(k) distribution isn’t qualified (tax-free) because you haven’t yet satisfied the five-year holding period, be aware that when you roll those dollars into your Roth IRA, they’ll now be subject to the Roth IRA’s five-year holding period, no matter how long those dollars were in the 401(k) plan. So, for example, if you establish your first Roth IRA to accept your rollover, you’ll have to wait five more years until your distribution from the Roth IRA will be qualified and tax-free.

Estate Planning Strategies in a Low-Interest-Rate Environment

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The federal government requires the use of certain published interest rates to value various items used in estate planning, such as an income, annuity, or remainder interest in a trust. The government also specifies interest rates that a taxpayer may be deemed to use in connection with certain installment sales or intra-family loans. These rates are currently at or near historic lows, presenting several estate planning opportunities.

Low interest rates favor certain estate planning strategies over others. For example, low interest rates are generally beneficial for a grantor retained annuity trust (GRAT), a charitable lead annuity trust (CLAT), an installment sale, and a low-interest loan. On the other hand, low interest rates generally have a detrimental effect on a qualified personal residence trust (QPRT) and a charitable gift annuity. But interest rates have little or no effect on a charitable remainder unitrust (CRUT).

Grantor retained annuity trust (GRAT)

In a GRAT, you transfer property to a trust, but retain a right to annuity payments for a term of years. After the trust term ends, the remaining trust property passes to your designated beneficiaries, such as family members. The value of the gift of the remainder interest is discounted for gift tax purposes to reflect that it will be received in the future. Also, if you survive the trust term, the trust property is not included in your gross estate for estate tax purposes. If the rate of appreciation is greater than the IRS interest rate, a higher value of trust assets escapes gift and estate taxation. Consequently, the lower the IRS interest rate, the more effective this technique can be.

Charitable lead annuity trust (CLAT)

In a CLAT, you transfer property to a trust, giving a charity the right to annuity payments for a term of years. After the trust term ends, the remaining trust property passes to your designated beneficiaries, such as family members. This trust is similar to a GRAT, except that you get a gift tax charitable deduction. Also, if the CLAT is structured so that you are taxed on trust income, you receive an up-front income tax charitable deduction for the gift of the annuity interest. Like with a GRAT, the lower the IRS interest rate, the more effective this technique can be.

Installment sale

If you enter into an installment sale with family members, you can generally defer the taxation of any gain on the property sold until the installment payments are received. However, if the family member resells the property within two years of your installment sale, any deferred gain will generally be accelerated. The two-year limit does not apply to stocks that are sold on an established securities market.

You are generally required to charge an adequate interest rate (based on IRS published rates) in return for the opportunity to pay in installments, or interest will be deemed to be charged for income tax and gift tax purposes. However, with the current low interest rates, your family members can pay for the property in installments while paying only a minimal interest cost for the benefit of doing so.

Low-interest loan

A low-interest loan to family members might also be a useful strategy. You are generally required to charge an adequate interest rate on the loan for the use of the money, or interest will be deemed to be charged for income tax and gift tax purposes. However, with the current low interest rates, you can provide loans at a very low rate, and family members can effectively keep any earnings in excess of the interest they are required to pay you.

Effect of low rates on other strategies

  • Charitable remainder unitrust: You transfer property to a trust, retaining a stream of payments for life or a number of years, after which the remainder passes to charity. You receive a current charitable deduction for the gift of the remainder interest. Interest rates have no effect if payments are made annually at the beginning of each year, and low interest rates have only a minimal detrimental effect if payments are made in any other way.
  • Qualified personal residence trust: You transfer your personal residence to a trust, retaining the right to live in the home for a period of years, after which the residence passes to your designated beneficiaries, such as family members. The value of the gift of the remainder interest is discounted for gift tax purposes to reflect that it will be received in the future. The lower the IRS interest rate, the less effective this technique can be.
  • Charitable gift annuity: You transfer property to a charity in return for the charity’s promise to make annuity payments for your life (or for the lifetimes of you and your spouse). You receive a current charitable deduction for the gift of the remainder interest. The lower the interest rate, the lower the amount of your charitable deduction. Also, charities have generally been forced to reduce payout rates offered because of economic uncertainties and the low-interest-rate environment.
Nearing Retirement? Time to Get Focused

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If you’re within 10 years of retirement, you’ve probably spent some time thinking about this major life change. The transition to retirement can seem a bit daunting, even overwhelming. If you find yourself wondering where to begin, the following points may help you focus.

Reassess your living expenses

A step you will probably take several times between now and retirement–and maybe several more times thereafter–is thinking about how your living expenses could or should change. For example, while commuting and dry cleaning costs may decrease, other budget items such as travel and health care may rise. Try to estimate what your monthly expense budget will look like in the first few years after you stop working. And then continue to reassess this budget as your vision of retirement becomes reality.

Consider all your income sources

Next, review all your possible sources of income. Chances are you have an employer-sponsored retirement plan and maybe an IRA or two. Try to estimate how much they could provide on a monthly basis. If you are married, be sure to include your spouse’s retirement accounts as well. If your employer provides a traditional pension plan, contact the plan administrator for an estimate of your monthly benefit amount.

Do you have rental income? Be sure to include that in your calculations. Is there a chance you may continue working in some capacity? Often retirees find that they are able to consult, turn a hobby into an income source, or work part-time. Such income can provide a valuable cushion that helps retirees postpone tapping their investment accounts, giving them more time to potentially grow.

Finally, don’t forget Social Security. You can get an estimate of your retirement benefit at the Social Security Administration’s website, ssa.gov. You can also sign up for a my Social Security account to view your online Social Security Statement, which contains a detailed record of your earnings and estimates of retirement, survivor, and disability benefits.

Manage taxes

As you think about your income strategy, also consider ways to help minimize taxes in retirement. Would it be better to tap taxable or tax-deferred accounts first? Would part-time work result in taxable Social Security benefits? What about state and local taxes? A qualified tax professional can help you develop an appropriate strategy.

Pay off debt, power up your savings

Once you have an idea of what your possible expenses and income look like, it’s time to bring your attention back to the here and now. Draw up a plan to pay off debt and power up your retirement savings before you retire.

  • Why pay off debt? Entering retirement debt-free–including paying off your mortgage–will put you in a position to modify your monthly expenses in retirement if the need arises. On the other hand, entering retirement with mortgage, loan, and credit card balances will put you at the mercy of those monthly payments. You’ll have less of an opportunity to scale back your spending if necessary.
  • Why power up your savings? In these final few years before retirement, you’re likely to be earning the highest salary of your career. Why not save and invest as much as you can in your employer-sponsored retirement savings plan and/or your IRAs? Aim for the maximum allowable contributions. And remember, if you’re 50 or older, you can take advantage of catch-up contributions, which allow you to contribute an additional $6,000 to your employer-sponsored plan and an extra $1,000 to your IRA in 2016.

Account for health care

Finally, health care should get special attention as you plan the transition to retirement. As you age, the portion of your budget consumed by health-related costs will likely increase. Although Medicare will cover a portion of your medical costs, you’ll still have deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. Unless you’re prepared to pay for these costs out of pocket, you may want to purchase a supplemental insurance policy.

In 2015, the Employee Benefit Research Institute reported that the average 65-year-old married couple would need $213,000 in savings to have at least a 75% chance of meeting their insurance premiums and out-of-pocket health care costs in retirement. And that doesn’t include the cost of long-term care, which Medicare does not cover and can vary substantially depending on where you live. For this reason, you might consider a long-term care insurance policy.

These are just some of the factors to consider as your prepare to transition into retirement. Breaking the bigger picture into smaller categories may help the process seem a little less daunting.

How long should I keep financial records?

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There’s a fine line between keeping financial records for a reasonable period of time and becoming a pack rat. A general rule of thumb is to keep financial records only as long as necessary. For example, you may want to keep ATM receipts only temporarily, until you’ve reconciled them with your bank statement. But if a document provides legal support and/or is hard to replace, you’ll want to keep it for a longer period or even indefinitely. It’s ultimately up to you to determine which records you should keep on hand and for how long, but here’s a suggested timetable for some common documents.

One year or less More than one year Indefinitely
Bank or credit union statements Tax returns and documentation* Birth, death, and marriage certificates
Credit card statements Mortgage contracts and documentation Adoption papers
Utility bills Property appraisals Citizenship papers
Annual insurance policies Annual retirement and investment statements Military discharge papers
Paycheck stubs Receipts for major purchases and home improvements Social Security card

 

*The IRS requires taxpayers to keep records that support income, deductions, and credits shown on their income tax returns until the period of limitations for that return runs out–generally three to seven years, depending on the circumstances. Visit irs.gov or consult your tax professional for information related to your specific situation.

What are required minimum distributions (RMDs)?

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Traditional IRAs and employer retirement plans such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s offer several tax advantages, including the ability to defer income taxes on both contributions and earnings until they’re distributed from the plan.

But, unfortunately, you can’t keep your money in these retirement accounts forever. The law requires that you begin taking distributions, called “required minimum distributions” or RMDs, when you reach age 70½ (or in some cases, when you retire), whether you need the money or not. (Minimum distributions are not required from Roth IRAs during your lifetime.)

Your IRA trustee or custodian must either tell you the required amount each year or offer to calculate it for you. For an employer plan, the plan administrator will generally calculate the RMD. But you’re ultimately responsible for determining the correct amount. It’s easy to do. The IRS, in Publication 590-B, provides a chart called the Uniform Lifetime Table. In most cases, you simply find the distribution period for your age and then divide your account balance as of the end of the prior year by the distribution period to arrive at your RMD for the year.

For example, if you turn 76 in 2016, your distribution period under the Uniform Lifetime Table is 22 years. You divide your account balance as of December 31, 2015, by 22 to arrive at your RMD for 2016.

The only exception is if you’re married and your spouse is more than 10 years younger than you. If this special situation applies, use IRS Table II (also found in Publication 590-B) instead of the Uniform Lifetime Table. Table II provides a distribution period that’s based on the joint life expectancy of you and your spouse.

If you have multiple IRAs, an RMD is calculated separately for each IRA. However, you can withdraw the required amount from any of your IRAs. Inherited IRAs aren’t included with your own for this purpose. (Similar rules apply to Section 403(b) accounts.) If you participate in more than one employer retirement plan, your RMD is calculated separately for each plan and must be paid from that plan.

Remember, you can always withdraw more than the required amount, but if you withdraw less you will be hit with a penalty tax equal to 50% of the amount you failed to withdraw.

 

IRS Circular 230 disclosure: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) was not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding tax-related penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any matter addressed herein.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2016